Tag Archives: Vijaya

The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Postlude


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Myself 

By T. V. Antony Raj

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The Veddhas or Wanniya-laeto (‘forest-dwellers’) of the wanni (dry monsoon forest) are Sri Lanka’s indigenous inhabitants. According to scholars, the Veddhas of today perpetuate a direct line of descent from the island’s original Neolithic community that dates back to at least 16,000 BC.

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Wanniya-laeto ('Vedda') elders of Dambana. (Source: Vedda.org)
Wanniya-laeto (‘Vedda’) elders of Dambana. (Source: Vedda.org)

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For the past eighteen centuries or more the indigenous Veddha communities have been forced to retreat deeper into the ever-shrinking forests pummeled by successive waves of immigration and colonization that began with the arrival of the north Indians in the 5th century BC.

According to their culture the Veddhas revere and venerate their ancestors. At present, the surviving dwindling Veddha communities still live in the dry monsoon forests with their uncanny knowledge of their jungle habitat. They still retain the memory of their prehistoric culture and preserve their cultural identity and traditional lifestyle, despite facing the many challenges and relentless pressure from the surrounding dominant Sinhala and Tamil communities.

In the North Central and Uva provinces of Sri Lanka, a few Veddhas have been absorbed into the mainstream Sinhala communities and on the East Coast into the Tamil communities.

The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.
The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.

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Ancient chronicles such as the Mahavamsa, relate the origin of the Sinhalese people of Sri Lanka to the arrival of Prince Vijaya from an area either in the northeast or northwest India, and his later affiliation with people from south India. Students of Indian history argue that the lore of Vijaya should be interpreted to favour either one or the other of the northern origins, or a mixture of people from both areas.

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W. S. Karunatillake (late), Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.
W. S. Karunatillake (late), Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka.

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W. S. Karunatillake (late), Professor Emeritus of Linguistics at the University of Kelaniya, Sri Lanka, a Sinhala linguist, supported the hypothesis that the Sinhalese people originated in Eastern India because over 50% Sinhala words resemble words in the Bengali language. Even so, the question: “Did Vijaya and his companions migrate to Sri Lanka from Singhpur, Kalinga in northeast India, or from Sihor, Gujarat in northwest India?” still remains unresolved.

Some scholars identify the Lála country, where Sinhabahu founded Sinhapur, with the modern Rarh region of West Bengal, India that is still called Lala/Larh. Sanskrit texts refer to it as Lata-desa. Al-Biruni, a historian, chronologist and linguist of the medieval Islamic era calls it Lardesh in the extreme hilly west of Bengal where the Hooghly district and modern Singur is located. However, some scholars identify the region as modern Gujarat.

References weigh more in favor of Vijaya’s origin to lower Indus, and Sihor, which was officially known as Sinhapur in Kathiawar peninsula in ancient times. Also, the only home to Asiatic lions (locally referred as ‘Sinh‘ or ‘Sinha‘) is Gir Forest in Kathiawar peninsula in Gujarat and the approach to core Gir territory is just a few miles away from Sihor. In fact, to date, lions are sighted in rural areas adjoining Sihor.

According to the history chronicled in the Mahavamsa, Prince Vijaya and his wayward followers before landing at Tambapanni, first disembarked at the haven called Suppäraka, now identified with modern Sapporo, in the Thana district north of Mumbai. If Lála country was in northeast India, how could Vijaya and his companions dispatched from there, land at the port of Suppäraka in northwest India?

If we presume that the story of Vijaya narrated in the Mahavasa is historically correct, then, Prince Vijaya and his followers would have set sail from northwest India from a coastal harbour in Gujarat. Their contribution to the modern Sinhalese must have been erased by the long-standing interrelationship with people from Tamil Nadu for over 2,000 years.

According to the Mahavamsa, the population of Sri Lanka is heterogeneous – composed of diverse ethnic groups from India.

So far, most studies on the genetic affinities of the Sinhalese have been contradictory. Some investigators suggest a predominantly Bengali contribution and a minor Tamil and North Western Indian contribution, while others point towards a predominantly Tamil origin followed by a significant Bengali contribution with no North Western Indian contribution.

However, it is emphatically proved that the ancient ancestors of the current Sinhalese people came originally from northeast or northwest India as shown by genetic, linguistic and religious connections. After their arrival in Sri Lanka, the ancients intermarried to a minor extent with the indigenous Veddhas. Population genetic studies on the Sinhalese undertaken by various investigators show that they certainly intermarried extensively with Tamils of Southern India than with the Veddhas.

For the most part, according to the Mahavamsa, the modern Sinhalese are related to the Tamils as far back as 543 BC, with some elements of ancestry connected later with Bengalis, Gujaratis, Punjabis and Indian Moors. This is also supported by a genetic distance study, which showed low differences in genetic distance between the Sinhalese and the Tamil, Keralite and Bengali volunteers.

Because Sri Lanka lies on important sea trade routes, it has from ancient times received a constant influx of people from India and from various parts of the world, especially from the Mediterranean, Middle East, Europe, and the far-east. However, the genetic studies on the Sinhalese do not seem to show any ancestry from China or Southeast Asia.

In the 1995 study, “Genetic affinities of Sri Lankan populations” by Dr. Gautam K. Kshatriya (Source: National Institute of Health and Family Welfare, Munirka, New Delhi, India) published in Hum Biol. 1995 Dec;67(6):843-66, the author says:

Mythological and historical sketches of the Sri Lankan population indicate that it is heterogeneous and composed of diverse ethnic groups. Ancient chronicles of Sri Lanka relate the origin of the Sinhalese to the legend of Prince Vijaya, who arrived on the northwest coast of the island in 543 B.C. from northeast or northwest India. … Taking into consideration mythological, historical, and linguistic records of Sri Lanka, I attempt to study the degree of gene diversity and genetic admixture among the population groups of Sri Lanka along with the populations of southern, northeastern, and northwestern India, the Middle East, and Europe.

The genetic distance analysis was conducted using 43 alleles controlled by 15 codominant loci in 8 populations and 40 alleles controlled by 13 codominant loci in 11 populations. Both analyses give a similar picture, indicating that present-day Sinhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to Indian Tamils and South Indian Muslims. They are farthest from Veddahs and quite distant from Gujaratis and Punjabis of northwest India and Bengalis of northeast India. Veddhas, are distinct because they are confined to inhospitable dry zones and are hardly influenced by their neighbors.

The study of genetic admixture revealed that the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka have a higher contribution from the Tamils of southern India (69.86% +/- 0.61) compared with the Bengalis of northeast India (25.41% +/- 0.51), whereas the Tamils of Sri Lanka have received a higher contribution from the Sinhalese of Sri Lanka (55.20% +/- 9.47) compared with the Tamils of India (16.63% +/- 8.73).

Genetic Admixture of Sinhalese by Dr. Gautam K. Kshatriya

In the 2009 study, “Prevalence of genetic thrombophilic polymorphisms in the Sri Lankan population–implications for association study design and clinical genetic testing services” by V.H. Dissanayake, L.Y. Weerasekera, G.G. Gammulla, and R.W. Jayasekara (Source: Human Genetics Unit, Faculty of Medicine, University of Colombo, Kynsey Road, Colombo 8, Sri Lanka.) first published electronically on July 8, 2009, is consistent with the notion that Sinhalese are closely related to other Sri Lankans. The frequencies of the alleles observed were very similar between Sinhalese, Sri Lankan Tamils, and Moors and they were also similar to those in some ethnic groups from southern India. Excerpts from the Abstract:

“We investigated the prevalence of genotypes/alleles of single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNP) and haplotypes defined by them in three genes in which variations are associated with venous thromboembolism in 80 Sinhalese, 80 Sri Lankan Tamils and 80 Moors in the Sri Lankan population and compared the SNP data with that of other populations in Southern India and haplotype data with that of HapMap populations. … The frequencies observed were similar to data from other South Indian populations; […]”

Both the above studies present almost a similar picture. Genetic distance analysis, despite the limitations imposed by the data, shows that modern Sinhalese and Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to the Tamils and Keralites of south India and the upper caste groups of Bengal. They are farthest from Veddahs and quite distant from Gujaratis and Punjabis of northwest India.

Similarly, the Tamils of Sri Lanka are closer to the Sinhalese because they were always and are near to each other historically, linguistically, and culturally.

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The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Part 5 – Panduvāsudeva


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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During the last years of his life Vijaya lamented that he had no male heir of royal blood to succeed him to the throne. He wished to bring his twin-brother Sumitta from Sinhapura and handover his kingdom to him. Consulting his ministers Vijaya sent a letter to Sumitta. After some time Vijaya died.

After Vijaya’s death which ended the Kingdom of Tambapanni, his chief minister a Brahmin chaplain named Upatissa became regent. While the wait was on for the coming of prince Sumitta, Upatissa ruled the kingless kingdom for a year from Upatissagama (or Upatissa Nuwara) founded by him in 505 BC on the bank of river Gambhīra, about 8 miles north of Anuradhagama.

Other noteworthy establishments around Tambapanni were Anuradhagama and Vijitagama.

Anuradha, a minister of Vijaya, founded Anuradhagama (‘Anuradha’s village’) near the Kadamba river, the present Malwatu Oya. In later years, it became the capital of Rajarata for over a thousand years under the name Anuradhapura (Anuradha’s city).

Vijitha, one of Vijaya’s chief followers, founded Vijithagama also known as Vijitha Nagara or Vijithapura, a fortress-city. Historians believe that the city may have been an important trade center during the early stages of the Anuradhapura Kingdom, connecting several trade routes.

When Vijaya’s letter arrived at Sinhapura, Sumitta after the death of his father king Sinhabahu was already enthroned as king of his country. Sumitta had three sons by the princess of Madda. When he had heard the letter he was unwilling to leave his native land. So, he spoke to his three sons: “I am old, dear ones; one of you must depart for the greatly favoured and beauteous island of Tambapanni belonging to my brother, and there, after his death, assume, the sovereignty of that fair kingdom.”

Sumitta’s youngest son Panduvāsudeva consented to sail to Tambapanni. After being empowered by his father for the success of his journey, Panduvāsudeva took with him thirty-two sons of ministers and sailed with them in the disguise of mendicant monks. They landed at the mouth of the Mahakandara river.

Panduvāsudeva and his companions in the disguise of mendicant monks

Sri Lanka’s foremost historian and pre-eminent archaeologist Dr. Senarath Paranavithana, in his essay “Aryan settlements and early kings” published in the Concise History of Ceylon wrote: “Panduvasdeva with thirty two followers, it is said, arrived in Ceylon in the guise of mendicant monks. They landed at the mouth of the Mahakandara River at the port of Gokanna, the modern Trincomalee according to the commentator of the chronicle (Mahavamsa).”

When people saw these mendicant monks they received them with due respect. Panduvāsudeva after inquiring about the capital, reached the city of Upatissagama, with his 32 followers.

The ministers at Upatissagama saw the mendicant monks arrive there, after questioning they recognized them, as prince Panduvāsudeva and his retinue from Sinhapura. The ministers entrusted Panduvāsudeva with the sovereignty of the kingdom left by Vijaya. Since Panduvāsudeva lacked a consort he was not solemn consecrated as their ruler.

In the meantime, Sakka Pandu, a Sakya king, who lived on the farther side of the river Ganges, in India, had seven sons and a daughter named Bhaddakaccānā. The princess was beautiful as if made of gold. The soothsayers had predicted that an auspicious journey would come her way that would result in a royal consecration. Seven kings competed in wooing princess Bhaddakaccānā. They sent precious gifts to king Sakka Pandu.

These seven rivals appeared so likely to fight among themselves, for the hand of the gorgeous princess. Unable to decide between her suitors, king Pandu after placing his daughter on a ship, together with thirty-two women-companions launched the vessel upon the Ganges, saying: “Whosoever can, let him take my daughter.”

None of the wooers was able to overtake her ship that sailed swiftly down the Ganges river and reached the ocean.

After a few days of sailing on the ocean, their vessel reached the haven called Gonagamaka (present Trincomalee harbour) on the east coast of the island where they landed, dressed as nuns.

In due course, princess Bhaddakaccānā and her companions reached Upatissagama, where prince Panduvāsudeva, who had heard the saying of a soothsayer, awaited their arrival.

Panduvāsudeva’s ministers, full of pious understanding, consecrated him as their king. He married princess Bhaddakaccānā and gave her women-companions to his
followers who had come with him from Sinhapura.

Panduvāsudeva reigned for thirty years from 444 BC to 414 BC.

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The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Part 4 – Tamil Brides from Madurai


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Vijaya’s ministers were quite intrepid in founding their own villages around Tambapanni. After they had founded settlements, the ministers spoke to prince Vijaya.

“Sire, please consent to be consecrated as the ruler of this land,” they said.

In spite of their request, the prince refused the consecration for want of a maiden hailing from a noble house to be consecrated as his consort at the same time.

The ministers, sent emissaries entrusted with many precious gifts, jewels, pearls, and other valuables, to the city of “Then Madurai” (the modern-day city of Madurai in Tamil Nadu), in the Pandya kingdom of the Tamils in southern India, to woo the daughter of the Pandya king for their lord, and the daughters of others for his ministers and retainers whose wives got separated from them during their voyage from the Lála country.

Since then, there are several recorded instances of intermarriage between ruling families of Sri Lanka and the major royal South Indian Dynasties, in particular, the Pandya, Chola, and the Chera.

The messengers from Tambapanni, on reaching Then Madurai laid the gifts and letter of request before the Pandya king. After consulting his ministers, the king agreed to send his daughter to the island of Tambapanni to become the consort of Vijaya. So, he proclaimed with the beat of drums:

Those citizens who are willing to let their daughter depart to the island of Tambapanni shall provide their daughters with a double store of clothing and place them at the doors of their houses. By this sign we will know that we may take their daughters to ourselves.”

The Pandya king thus obtained a hundred maidens. After compensating the families of the maidens, he sent his daughter, bedecked with all her ornaments and all that was needful for the voyage, the maidens whom he had fitted out according to their rank, elephants, horses, waggons, an so forth as dowry. He also sent craftsmen and a thousand families belonging to the eighteen trade guilds.

This multitude from Then Madurai disembarked at the port of Mahatittha (Mantota or Manthotam).

When Vijaya heard that the princess from the Pandya kingdom had arrived at the port of Mahatittha with her retinue he said to Kuveni: “Go thou now, dear one, leaving the two children behind; men are ever in fear of superhuman beings.”

When Kuveni heard this, seized with mortal fear of the yakshas she started wailing.

Vijaya then told her, “Delay not! I will give you a thousand (pieces of money).”

Kuveni leaving Tambapanni with her son Jivahata and daughter Disala
Kuveni leaving Tambapanni with her son Jivahata and daughter Disala (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

Kuveni implored again and again, but Vijaya did not relent. Outraged, Kuveni scorned Vijaya with words of wrath and cursed him and his city of Tambapanni. She then departed from the city with her son Jivahata and daughter Disala, for Lankapura, the capital of the yakshas, knowing very well that evil would befall her.

Kuveni being attacked
Kuveni being attacked (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

On reaching Lankapura, she left the children outside the city in the forest glades and went alone into the city. The yakshas in the city on recognizing her took her for a spy, and a violent yaksha killed Kuveni with a single blow of his fist.

yaksha, an uncle of Kuveni on her mother’s side, saw the children waiting in the glades for the return of their mother. On learning that they were Kuveni’s children, he said: “Your mother has been slain, and if the other yakshas see you they will kill you also. So, go away immediately from here!”

Sripada also known as Adam's Peak
Sumanakuta (modern Sripada / Adam’s Peak in the Ratnapura District)

They children trekked towards Sumanaküta (Adam’s Peak in the Ratnapura District). When they grew up Jivahata took his sister Disala for his wife. Their offsprings are the Veddhas of Sri Lanka.

The envoys of the Pandya king delivered their princess, the maidens, and the dowry to Vijaya. The prince offered his hospitality and bestowed honours on the envoys of the Pandya king. He distributed the maidens to his ministers and retainers according to their rank.

Prince Vijaya marries Pandya princess
Vijaya marries the Pandya princess(A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

The ministers solemnly consecrated Vijaya as their king and the Pandya princess as their queen. King Vijaya bestowed wealth on his ministers. Every year he sent a valuable pearl to his father-in-law, the Pandya king.

Vijaya forsook his former evil way of life. He reigned Tambapanni for thirty-eight years from 543 BC – 505 BC, in peace and righteousness.

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← Previous: Part 3 – Kuveni                                     → Next: Part 5 – Panduvāsudeva

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The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Part 3 – Kuveni


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Yakka or yaksha is the name of a broad class of nature-spirits, usually benevolent, who are caretakers of the natural treasures hidden in the earth and tree roots, but there is also a darker version of the yakkas, which is a kind of ghost (bhutha) that haunts the wilderness and waylays and devours travelers, similar to the rakshasas. The yakkas appear in Hindu, Jain and Buddhist literature. The feminine form of the word is yakshi or yakshini.

After Vijaya and his men landed at Tambapanni, there appeared a dog. Though Prince Vijaya had advised his men not to venture alone into the forest, one of them surmising that ‘dogs are found only in villages,’ followed the creature.

‘Kuveni’ portrayed by Dulani Anuruddha

‘Kuveni’ portrayed by Dulani Anuruddha (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

On entering the thick forest, he saw the mistress of the dog, a yakshini named Kuveni also known as Sesapathi or Kuvanna (in Mahavamsa), seated at the foot of a tree spinning as a woman-hermit might.

When the man saw the pond and the woman-hermit sitting there, he dived into the pond. When he came out of the pond, after his bath, Kuveni approached him and commanded, “Stay! You are my prey!”.

The man stood there, traumatized. Kuveni tried to devour him, but could not because of the power of the magic thread. Though she entreated him, the man would not yield up the thread. The yakshini then seized him, and hurled him into a chasm. Similarly, she hurled all seven hundred, one by one, after him.

When none of his men returned, fear came upon Vijaya. Armed with five weapons he set out to find them. When he came up to the beautiful pond, he saw no trace of any man having come there. Then, he saw the woman-hermit and thought: ‘Surely  this woman has seized by men.’

He asked her, “O woman, have you seen my men?”

“Why do you want your men, prince?” she replied. “First quench your thirst and bathe in the pond.”

Vijaya thought: ‘This surely is a yakshini! How else could she know my rank?’

Vijaya and Kuveni
Wijaya and Kuveni (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

Drawing his bow, he swiftly caught her in the noose about the neck, and seizing her hair with his left hand he lifted his sword in the right and shouted: “Slave! Give me back my men, or I will kill you!”

Fearing for her life Kuveni cried out, “Spare my life, sir. I will give you a kingdom and do a woman’s service and other services as you wish.”

He then asked her to swear an oath, and ordered her to bring his men immediately.

When she brought all his men to that place, he said, “These men are hungry.”

Kuveni showed them rice and other foods and goods of every kind that had been in the ships of those traders whom she had devoured. Vijaya’s men prepared food with the rice and the condiments provided by her.

Kuveni was well pleased when Vijaya handed her the first portions of the meal. She assumed the lovely form of a 16-year-old maiden and approached the prince adorned with all her ornaments.

She made an alluring bed at the foot of a tree and covered it with a tent adorned with a canopy. Vijaya’s men encamped around the tent.

Vijaya united with Kuveni and they blissfully spent the night on that bed.

In due course of time, Vijaya’s men spread throughout the region and established settlements.

One night, Vijaya heard music and singing, and asked the Kuveni, lying near him about the noise.

Kuveni said, “Here there is a yakka city called Sirisavatthu. A great multitude of yakkas has gathered here for the marriage of the daughter of the chief of the yakkas. The wedding festivities will last for seven days; hence this noise.”

Then she continued: ‘I will bestow kingship on you my lord if you would slay all the yakkas else they will kill me because it is through me that your men have taken up their dwelling here in this land which belongs to the yakkas. Today, you must kill all the yakkas participating in the festivities, else it will not be possible to destroy them later.”

Vijaya asked, “How can I slay the invisible yakkas?”

The yakkas because of their stealthy movement would have been invisible to Vijaya and his men who were newcomers to the island, and unused to its thick jungles. Even today, the veddas move about in the thick jungles almost invisibly.

Kuveni replied, “Wherever they might be, I will utter cries. When you hear my voice, strike! By my magic power I will direct your weapons to pierce their bodies.”

Vijaya listened to his consort. Directed by her, Vijaya fought fiercely and slew all the yakkas. He donned the garments of the chief of the yakkas and gave the other raiments to his followers.

Kuveni with Vijaya and his followers
Kuveni with the victorious Wijaya and his followers. (A still from the film ‘Wijaya Kuveni’ produced by Sugath Samarakoon).

After spending some days in Sirisavatthu, Vijaya returned to the place where he and his men landed. There he founded the city of Tambapanni and dwelt there with Kuveni.

Kuveni bore Vijaya two children, a son named Jivahata and a daughter named Disala.

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The Sinhalese Too Migrated to Sri Lanka from India: Part 2 – Vijaya


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Myself By T.V. Antony Raj

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Prince-regent Vijaya, the eldest son born to Sinhabahu and his twin-sister Sinhasivali, was cruel and callous – an embodiment of evil – and likewise were his friends. Angered by the many intolerable deeds of violence executed by the prince-regent and his followers, the subjects of Sinhapura brought the matter before the king. However, the king took no action against the prince-regent. The angry subjects finally asked the king to kill his evil son Vijaya.

The exasperated king arrested his eldest son Vijaya, the prince-regent, and seven hundred men who were his followers. After disgracing them by shaving off half the head of each person, he banished them from Lála country by loading the men, their wives, and their children on separate vessels and set them afloat on the sea.

The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.
The migration routes of the ancestors of the Sinhalese and other ethnic groups into Sri Lanka.

The children landed on an island called Naggadipa or the ‘island of the naked’ (Jaffna Peninsula in Sri Lanka).

The women landed on an island called Mahiladipaka or ‘islet of women’ in the Maldivian Islands.

Prince Vijaya and his unruly followers landed first at the haven called Suppäraka, now identified with modern Sopara, in Thana district north of Mumbai. However, the hostile reception by the natives, and also dissidence and violence among his men, forced Vijaya to embark again. The second time, their vessel driven by the violence of the wind, they landed on the island of Sri Lanka.

Vijaya and his companions landing at Tambapanni

Vijaya and his men after disembarking from the ship sat down, wearied, on the ground. They found their hands and bodies coloured by the red dust that lay there. So,  they called the place Tambapanni (“copper-colored sand”). Later on, Vijaya founded his capital in Tambapanni, and the island came to bear the same name.

Map of Taprobana- 1588

The Alexandrian geographer, Claudius Ptolemy (c. 90 AD – c. 168 AD) identified the Island as ‘Taprobana’, derived obviously from Tambapanni, when he drafted his map of Sri Lanka. It carried an elaborately ornamented sketch of a wild elephant and a legend in Latin set inside a decorative frame. The map only had a vague resemblance to the Island’s broad base and tapering tip.

At the place of their landing they saw a wandering ascetic seated at the foot of a tree. They approached him and asked him: “What land is this, sir?”

“The island of Lanka,” the ascetic answered.”There are no men (humans) here, and here no dangers will arise.”

The ascetic blessed them by sprinkling on them water from his kamandalu (Tamil: kamandalam). After winding a thread about their hands he disappeared.

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